An organization with Fort Bragg connections is expanding to help more teenagers who had parents killed while serving in the military.
Gold Star Teen Adventures is working to make that expansion a reality with the help of a fundraiser coming up on Sunday.
The idea for the fundraiser and the organization itself came from Kent Solheim who serves at Fort Bragg. He is a special operations service member who was seriously wounded in Iraq in 2007. His right leg had to be amputated. During his recovery he realized he benefited from being able to interact with others with similar experiences. He also thought about the experiences he wanted his children to have if he hadn't survived.
So the idea of Gold Star Teen Adventures was born. In 2011, the organization began providing summer scuba diving experiences to teenaged children of special operations service members who lost their lives in the line of duty.
"That diving program centered around the fact that a lot of the special operations, diving is a part of what they do," Solheim said. "So knowing that, and knowing that if Dad was still in these young kids' lives, this is an activity that they definitely would have done. So we said, hey let's give these kids this chance."
Now Solheim hopes to provide summer sailing and outdoor adventures too. It costs about $3,000 to cover the cost of each teenaged participant, so the fundraiser aims to get the new programs off the ground. Nine volunteer swimmers are working to raise money and awareness about the organization by participating in a marathon swim. Solheim is one of the swimmers. Five of the other swimmers also live in the Fort Bragg area.
"I'm just hopeful that the person that's looking to make a donation or support us as a volunteer in some way will just step up and say hey I can do that," said Celia Wolff. She is also one of the volunteer swimmers and the coach for the participants. She also coaches the Masters Swimming club at Fort Bragg.
Eight of the swimmers aim to swim nearly 50 kilometers in a 24 hour period from Sunday to Monday. They will swim off the coast of the northern-most Florida Key. Wolff said the swimmers will rotate, with each person swimming for 45 minutes until the next person takes over.
Jessica McCloskey will swim the final mile. Her husband Shawn was based at Fort Bragg when he was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. She has two young children, and she herself has experienced the scuba diving adventure when a group of Gold Star spouses participated in 2011.
"Doing something like that that I thought I could never do and doing it without Shawn and doing it with some other Gold Star family members, it was an amazing accomplishment," McCloskey said. "Those kids still keep in contact. Those kids still have a friendship base that they go scuba diving together every summer. It's just something that we talk about - their dads - but it's not something tearful. It's not emotional. It's happy."
She said the experiences the teens have through Gold Star Teen Adventures creates an instant and lasting bond that helps teenagers deal with their emotions and helps with their confidence.
"When you have a buddy that's gone through the same thing that you're going through, and you can accomplish something together, it's a proud moment. It's a life-connecting moment," she said. "I want to take everybody. That's why when we do the swim, I'm just trying to fundraise as much as we can, get the word out as much as we can."
Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon.More>>